Exploring the link between copper toxicity and postpartum depression

Exploring the link between copper toxicity and postpartum depression

Copper toxicity, in my opinion, is incredibly overlooked in the health world (and even in the holistic health world today). But, despite that, I think it is something that we will see more and more of in the coming few years - particularly in relation to postpartum depression and the fascinating connection between the two. 

First up, copper is so essential for our daily healthy functioning. This article doesn't mean to demonize copper in any way. Copper is an important trace mineral that is critical for a healthy metabolism. It helps our body produce ATP and energy; without copper, our metabolism can slow, and we can face period problems and other health challenges. Just like having too little copper, there can be dangerous repercussions and side effects if there is too much copper in the body's soft tissues, which is known as copper toxicity.

Elevated copper and this copper toxicity can drive a ton of women's health and reproductive issues (including endometriosis, fibroid tumors, and reproductive-focused cancers) but today, I want to talk about the connection between copper levels and postpartum depression. A 2007 study published in the Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology found that women with a history of postpartum depression tend to have unusually high levels of copper in their blood and body, and I found myself asking - why are more people not talking about this?

So, what's the connection between copper levels and postpartum depression?

Ok. Let's get into it.

Copper levels can impact, influence, drive and cause postpartum depression because of the metal's role on our brain chemistry.

It is usual for copper to rise within the body (and brain) during pregnancy - in fact, copper levels are thought to over double, and this happens to help make enough blood vessels in the body to create and care for the new baby. The problem with copper is not its existence but is when the detox mechanism is impaired, and the body can't detox it properly.

Copper-toxic females are thought to have poor detox mechanisms for copper within their bodies. What that means is that copper levels rise with pregnancy and do not come down after birth as they are supposed to. When the copper levels do not normalize on their own, the excess levels of copper in the body and brain can impact our mood-regulating neurotransmitters.

It's thought that too much copper pushes dopamine into norepinephrine, which alters the delicate balance of these two mood-regulating chemicals. Throwing these out of whack, or causing drastic changes to their functioning, can cause drastic changes to our mood because these hugely depend on the balance of these neurotransmitters.

So, this copper toxicity, the inability to reduce or detox post birth, and the impact on neurotransmitters and mood is why many women struggle with postpartum depression, even years later.

For some women, they can move from depression into postpartum psychosis too. Many people think the risk of postpartum depression & postpartum psychosis increases with each pregnancy, but the truth is that the risk actually depends on the copper levels within the body (which can keep growing pregnancy after pregnancy if they are not able to naturally reduce and rebalance properly).

It is advised that women suffering from postpartum after their first two children should seek professional treatment to rebalance their neurotransmitters before conceiving or birthing their third.

So, who is vulnerable and should be most aware of this potential copper toxicity?

There are women more vulnerable to the copper imbalance in their bloodstream than others. Understanding the factors that can drive a vulnerability to copper toxicity include:

  • An imbalance between the zinc and copper ratio in their body;
  • High levels of copper through the diet (chocolate, avocado, sweet potatoes, etc.);
  • Existing hormone imbalances (like estrogen dominance);
  • Vitamin A deficiencies (discussed later on in the article); and
  • Genetic 'snips' (these can impact the way that the body regulates copper levels).

So, if you are conceiving, pregnant or have given birth, make sure that you are taking measured steps to keep your zinc, copper, Vitamin A, and hormones balanced and under control where possible, as well as being aware of whether you have any genetic 'snips'. 

And if you're vulnerable or struggling? Here are my pointers on how to navigate copper toxicity or postpartum depression experience

First up, testing. There are so many things you can do to support your health - nutritionally, hormonally, and emotionally after birth (and in general) - but lab testing is such an important place to start to understand what is going on within your body and what needs to be addressed. Please don't just go hero to zero overnight and cut all copper from your diet to try and solve the problem. Copper must be slowly and methodically removed and reduced from the system, so lab testing is really important because to create a healing protocol, you need to understand your levels. If you reduce copper too quickly, it can be equally destructive with many additional side effects. Throw in a DNA test to work out if you have a genetic snip too.

Secondly, understand the connection between Vitamin A and Copper and how this might exacerbate the problem. Vitamin A regulates copper in our body, and for our body to use copper, Vitamin A helps the body convert copper to ceruloplasmin, which is the form that it can then be used in. If you are not ingesting the right amount of Vitamin A, this can contribute to or exacerbate a copper toxicity problem also. Again, support this with lab testing and make sure you are getting enough Vitamin A from high-quality, organic, pasture-raised meat sources and not overly ingesting plant-based sources which have low bioavailability. For me, I love the Ancestral Supplements Beef Liver Capsules, as well as a good quality cod liver oil and grass-fed dairy as my vitamin A sources.

Third, nutrition and food choices are also an essential way of healing postpartum depression, but due to the intricacy and connections between what is going on inside the body, I'd advise working with a recommended naturopath or qualified nutritionist who can work alongside your lab tests to develop you an appropriately low-copper but nutritionally powerful diet that can help you re-regulate your body and transition out of postpartum depression - or avoid it altogether.

Fourth, consider where other levels of copper may be coming from within your lifestyle or diet that may be exacerbating this problem (i.e., do you have a copper IUD, are you eating a very copper-heavy diet?). Also, explore whether you have other hormonal imbalances that may be contributing to estrogen dominance that can further drive copper toxicity. Consider reviewing any hormone replacement therapy and birth control at this point too. 

There's a ton of info in this article, but the main takeaway is that there is hope for women struggling or suffering from postpartum depression. I know it can be so dark and so scary, but I believe that understanding copper toxicity could really be a solution to immense amounts of emotional and physical suffering for women all over the globe. I hope that by spreading the word on this, we may be able to impact the lives of many.

Know someone suffering from postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis? Please share this article with them and support them on their route to healing and happiness.

With love,

Jena x